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Investigating Evolution, Individual, and Group Behaviors

Nina FeffermanFascinated with the idea that huge and complicated tasks can be accomplished by groups that could not individually observe or understand the broader goal, much less design it, Nina Fefferman, associate professor, developed her research focus on how evolution can shape individual behaviors that only work when performed as part of a group.

“I study what types of images can be created by letting jigsaw puzzle pieces run around and attach themselves whenever they find another piece that fits,” says Fefferman, who recently joined EEB from a faculty position at Rutgers University.

Fefferman loves how many different aspects of nature and society are shaped by self-organizing, complex adaptive systems. In her research, she jumps from system to system, constantly learning new things with new, wonderful collaborators and students, while still being able to advance scientific understanding. With her lab collaborators, she has worked on everything from how to prepare for pandemics, to how real estate markets work, to how the evolution of bees can help design more secure internet systems.

“I’m really excited to be joining the department here in Knoxville,” says Fefferman. “There are so many amazing colleagues exploring a wide diversity of research questions at the interface of EEB and mathematics. I’m going to love being able to share my excitement and exchange ideas about both math AND biology rather than having to choose only one half of my soul, depending on the company!”